“We need to talk” – Connecting the dots to agile manufacturing

The bedrock of any solid relationship, whether that be professional or personal, is communication; and the same is true in design and manufacturing. Each step along the process needs to be connected seamlessly. But as companies merge with others and develop or take on new products, doing business becomes far more complex. This puts additional strain on everything from the design to manufacturing process and increases the need for flexible, agile communication. Right now, the only way that manufacturers can address this need is to try and force their existing development cycles and systems to adapt and talk to each other and this simply doesn’t work.

Strong communication is the key to delivering agile manufacturing; something that is critical in the connected era. Here, I explore why manufacturers need to join the dots.

Designing products in a volatile world

Consumer demand for products is becoming increasingly unpredictable. They want better quality products delivered in far faster timeframes, all at much cheaper price points than ever before. As a result, manufacturing devices in the connected era is becoming more and more of a challenge, and in response, manufacturers must innovate to bring agility back into their processes. This is something that rings true when looking at a recent report from The EEF, which revealed that 69 per cent of UK manufacturers think the UK “could do better,” when it comes to supporting business innovation.

Breaking down the barriers to better communication

Today, every manufacturing business has a process to follow, right from the initial enquiry through to the invoicing stage. While many businesses believe they have a unique formula, the vast majority will follow a typical pattern; with each process made up of a number of discrete steps.

To bring engineering agility back into the process, all of these steps must be connected seamlessly. Start by building a platform to capture all of the design requirements at a much earlier stage of the project, allowing sufficient time to iron out any errors. This process is often left far too late, by which point the materials are already being cut. By joining the dots first, the order-to-production time can be significantly reduced.

Plastic pipe manufacturer, Polypipe, is one organisation benefitting from taking a more joined up approach.

Aiming to offers its clients an end-to-end water management solution, it was important that knowledge and expertise could be readily shared across its three main divisions: Residential, Commercial and Civils and Infrastructure. Having both consistent file formats and a standardised approach to product development, project solutions and manufacturing helped the organisation to avoid duplication within the business as a whole and reduce waste.

Cutting down production processes just as Polypipe has done means that manufacturers will free up their time to design smarter machines. This leads us into a truly exciting area: the industrial Internet of Things. Embedding sensors into machinery enables data to be captured as the machine is being operated, valuable information that can be fed directly back into product lifecycle management.

Elsewhere, manufacturers free up more time to focus on improving the customer experience; to not only better meet the needs of existing clients but find new ones. And, as a result of reduced production costs, they’ll have more capital to invest back into the areas of their business that need it most.

In today’s increasingly complex manufacturing landscape, investment in design agility must be made now if companies are to build connected products and services that meet the needs of consumers. However, this isn’t to say that manufacturers need to totally revolutionise their business. Instead, they should review and adjust processes at regular intervals so as to gradually adapt to the Future of Making Things.